As founder and owner of Exploding Brainiacs — a science camp in Wheaton that, in its third year, served 70 youngsters in three sessions this summer — Addison “Addy” Henninger has a five-part recipe for success.

1. Identify and meet a demand.

2. Differentiate yourself. Ask, “What sets my company apart?”

3. Hard work and drive.

4. A positive “go get it” attitude.

5. An outstanding team.

She doesn’t come out and say it, but there’s a sixth part, too: Share the fruits of your success with others.

Good advice for any business, right?

Here’s the thing: Addy is 13.

How she started

Always interested in math and science, Addy was home-schooled for half-days in fifth grade so she could pursue her interests on a deeper level.

Because both her parents are business-minded, part of her curriculum involved entrepreneurship, in which she learned about marketing, sales, accounting and leadership.


 
Addison Henninger, 13, of Wheaton, launched the Exploding Brainiacs summer science camp at age 11.
– Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Armed with that background, Addy was convinced she was ready to start her own business.

She had attended science camps but found those taught by adults weren’t always relatable. So she decided to start a camp taught by kids instead.

“I love science,” Addy says. “I started this camp because I wanted to make other kids love science, too. I wanted to make science cool. … I wanted to have a camp where it’s actually kids teaching other kids … so it’s entirely relatable.”

She started a couple years ago with a five-day camp and 35 kids signed up.

For her second year, Addy focused on boosting her website and increasing advertising and it paid off: she held two camps instead of one.

One was called Rookies, aimed at kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The other was called Masterminds for kids in second through fifth grade wanting to pursue science on a deeper level. Sixty kids signed up.

This year, Addy created still another camp called Chemistry in the Kitchen, in which kids learned about the science of cooking. She added a second Masterminds camp, but scrapped Rookies. A total of 70 kids attended.

She also created her own PayPal and connected it to the website, to make it easier for parents to pay.

How it works

Campers — mostly kids from Addy’s school district — meet in her garage and yard for two hours a day for five days, and each day kids learn the correct vocabulary and conduct several experiments. Each day has a theme, such as Explosions or Gravity.

Lessons always start with a game, and then kids break into groups with their counselors — usually kids who already have been through the program — to do the experiments.

There’s a Popsicle break in the middle of each session, and classes always end with a game.

Addy starts planning the classes far in advance and researches the experiments by looking them up online, watching YouTube videos and then testing them herself. Sometimes she even develops her own.


Each day of Exploding Brainiacs camp starts and ends with a game and even includes a Popsicle break.

Each day of Exploding Brainiacs camp starts and ends with a game and even includes a Popsicle break.
– Courtesy of the Henninger family

“Honestly, if something sounds cool, I try it out,” she says. “And if I think the kids will like it, then it becomes an experiment.”

She also offers leadership training for the counselors, teaching them skills to keep students engaged and helping them run through some of the experiments.

The cost of her classes ranges from $60 to $75 a week. This year she spent $400 on supplies, and pays each counselor $50 per camp, with possible bonuses. She also has junior counselors who are unpaid but can make a bonus of up to $25 per camp.

Spreading out

The camp’s success has been great, but this year, Addy decided to take on another responsibility. She now sends 30 percent of her profits to a children’s home in India called Gilgal Gospel Mission. The home hosts about 30 children at a time, some of whom are orphans or children of parents who are unable to take care of them.

Addy’s entire family is pitching in to help provide an education for the Indian children. It costs about $7,000 to send all the kids to an English-speaking school, Addy’s mom, Sarah, says. Addy and her brothers are raising $1,000 with her parents supplying the rest.

“They don’t want to turn down any kids, but they’ve been having problems paying for all the children who are coming into their children’s home as orphans,” Addy says. “So I wanted to help and, since this is a science camp, I decided I wanted to help pay for their education so they could learn, too.”

On the Exploding Brainiacs website, explodingbrainiacs.com, visitors can donate to provide science kits for children in the home. The kits cost $5 to $15.

Exploding Brainiacs

As a businesswoman herself, Addy’s mom, Sarah, says she acts as the “encourager” for Addy’s efforts as the youngster learns about the ins and outs of business through her camp.

She tries to stay hands off, but also isn’t afraid to provide some coaching.

“It’s not perfect, and it’s not meant to be,” Sarah says. “It’s meant to be a learning process where they fail and make mistakes and you’re able to kind of coach and teach.”

The camp, she says, offers a fun and welcoming environment while also providing kids with some science lessons that will help them in school.

Addy and the counselors, she says, “are role models to these kids, where they’re realizing you can learn science and have a passion for it and be cool. No one feels like you’re not cool coming here, you feel like this is awesome.”

And if Addy occasionally stumbles on the business side of things, well, that also provides a learning experience.


C.J. Coppoletta, 12, left, a counselor, works with Marcus Vangetson, 7, at the electromagnet station in the summer science camp started by Addy Henninger.

 
C.J. Coppoletta, 12, left, a counselor, works with Marcus Vangetson, 7, at the electromagnet station in the summer science camp started by Addy Henninger.
– Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

“I think when these kids have permission to fail, they can learn a lot from that as well as getting some acknowledgment for success,” Sarah says.

Addy, meanwhile, says she’s gotten lots of positive feedback.

“The best is when the parents come up and tell me their kids have been quizzing them on all these science words that they don’t know,” she says.

The kids seem to like it, too.

“I like it because you get to do fun experiments,” says Marcus Vangetson, 7½.

His favorite experiment is the egg drop on Finding Force day, he said.

Clara Delzell, 13, is one of the camp counselors.

“You have responsibilities, but your responsibilities are pretty fun,” she says. “And even when we do have to clean up, we’re just all having fun together.”

Looking ahead

Her camps are over for this year, but for Addy, the learning is just beginning. She’s spending time this summer with an aunt and uncle in California to learn about their careers: her aunt is a mechanical engineer and her uncle a marine biologist.

Addy and her aunt plan to build a 3-D printer.

Of course she also plans to continue her camp and someday to share her lessons with kids at Gilgal Gospel Mission during an in-person visit.

Oh, and she also plans to create a “Camp in a Box” to teach other kids how to start their own summer programs.


Addy Henninger, 13, works with kids in the science summer camp she started at age 11.

 
Addy Henninger, 13, works with kids in the science summer camp she started at age 11.
– Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

“It’s important for me to run this camp because I’m helping those kids in India … and because I’m learning the business skills now that I’ll need later in life,” she says. “I hope to start a larger business when I’m older, but for now I’m learning valuable skills about managing money, managing employees, and hopefully I’ll continue running this camp.”

The best payoff, though, has nothing to do with money.

“My favorite part about this job is at the end of the day at camp when the kids come up to me and tell me they don’t want to leave, and (they ask) if I can ask their parents if they can just stay longer,” Addy says. “I just love working with kids and seeing them enjoying science.”

In a way, Exploding Brainiacs is its own science experiment — an experiment that allows Addy to pursue her dreams in the process.

“I love how there are endless possibilities in the world of science,” she says. “There are always new things to be found. In science, even if you fail in an experiment, it’s a new experiment on its own. And I just think that’s so cool, because with every experiment there’s something to learn from.”

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